Growing up in the ’90s, Dancing With the Stars pro Mark Ballas had a daily routine: turn on the TV at 5:30 p.m. to watch Melissa Joan Hart in Clarissa Explains it All.
“I said to my mom, my dad, ‘Don’t talk to me, I’m watching Clarissa,” says Ballas, now 23. He would then do his homework, followed by watching his other favorite show — also starring Hart — Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
“I was little, I was 12, 13,” Ballas says, “and I was like, ‘She’s really cute.'”
Now, Ballas is paired with Hart for season 9 of Dancing With the Stars, which premieres Sept. 21 on ABC. What was it like to meet his teenage crush? “I was nervous and excited,” says Ballas. “We get along great. We have the same sense of humor, similar personalities. We have a great time.”
Ballas, a singer-songwriter who performed with his acoustic guitar Sunday night at City Winery in Manhattan, has been training with Hart in Connecticut for the last month. “She’s doing really, really well,” says Ballas, a two-time champion of DWTS, who took danced with winners Shawn Johnson and Kristi Yamaguchi.
But being one of the world’s top athlete’s is not the key to success, he says. “It’s having the will to want to learn and she definitely has that,” Ballas says, “and she’s improved so much since we started.”
Ballas continues: “She said it’s been a dream of hers to be a dancer, and that is a dream that’s coming true.”
A dream coming true for Ballas, who has played acoustic guitar since he was a child, is the development of his musical career. “I bottle a lot of my feelings up and I feel like songwriting is a release for me,” says Ballas, who will be performing with fellow DWTS pro Derek Hough and their group, The Ballas Hough Band, during week two and week five of the show. –Diane Herbst
Tell us: Will you be rooting for Melissa Joan Hart and Mark Ballas this season?Craig Sjodin/ABC